December 24, 2012

Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas (Anymore)

Last year I briefly mentioned I don't celebrate Christmas (partly to explain why there would be no Christmas-themed posts around here, despite the fact I make Christmas Spiders for sale).  In subsequent weeks, I received a lot of emails from folks asking me why I don't celebrate.  I hadn't really thought to elaborate in my post, because I figured lots of people don't celebrate Christmas.  But I think because I don't celebrate anything instead, plus I used to celebrate Christmas, it became a little curiouser and curiouser.

This year I thought I'd explain, but I've been delaying this post because I'm worried about accidentally coming across as preachy or sounding about as fun as a sack of potatoes.  These are my very personal reasons for not celebrating Christmas and I'm not out to change people's minds or make Christmas less fun


The Question: Why don't you celebrate Christmas (anymore)?

The Short Answer:  

I'm not Christian.  Even though I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten until the end of high school, school-time masses involved me siting alone in the pew while everyone awkwardly squeezed by me to get their host.  I know that what we call "Christmas" has many secular aspects, and many folks who exchange gifts this time of year and put up a tree aren't Christian either, but I just feel weird about celebrating a holiday steeped in religious meaning when I am not a religious person.  I am sensitive to people wanting to keep Christ in "Christmas," so I think it's more appropriate that I don't celebrate.

The Long Answer:

At one time, my family (parents and little me) "did" Christmas, but only the secular aspects.  We divided our time between family in Toronto and Thunder Bay, which often meant scary, cross province drives in insane blizzards, or super expensive flights coupled with suitcases containing only a spare pair of gotch and dozens of gifts.  It was often very stressful.

We continued to celebrate Christmas until the year before I left my hometown for grad school.  I wanted to check out some universities in Vancouver, BC and "Christmas break" was the only free time, so my Mom, Dad and I toured Vancouver instead.  We loved the lack of preparation and stress and rushing around.  We still got to be together as a family but it was more relaxing, and on our own terms if that makes sense.  It was liberating to to spend time together without having to pay homage to a date that held no significance for us. 

The following year, after a lot of thought, we made a conscious decision to no longer celebrate Christmas.  At the end of the day, we weren't celebrating Christmas via any religious expression, and we weren't enjoying the commercial aspects, so we decided Christmas wasn't for us.  Frankly, I was also struggling with the dominance of Christianity (reflected strongly in the marketplace, like when Silent Night plays endlessly in every mall), while the many other religions practiced in Canada are marginalized.  
      
After I moved away from my hometown, my parents and Handy Hubby (who was still Buildy Boyfriend then), went to Montreal for a little R&R&R (resting, relaxing and reconnecting).  When Hubby and I got married in December the next year, we took off for a Grecian Honeymoon and spent "Christmas" there.  A Christmassy Christmastime is now a distant memory.  We travel during the holidays.  Capping off each year by seeing more of the world has become something we really look forward to, especially because Hubs and I spend our anniversary somewhere special each year as a result!  Starting each year feeling relaxed is an added bonus.

The Fall Out:

Most of our family has been pretty cool about our decision, and have respected it (even if they don't quite understand or relate).  I am sure they were (and are) a little disappointed, and I appreciate that.  We try to make sure we spend quality time with them at other times of the year.  There are a few relations, though, who I think have taken it personally, and see it as a rejection of them.  Without getting on a soapbox, we try to explain that our reasons are rooted in thinking deeply about whether we consider ourselves religious, what we think about the way in which Christmas dominates over celebrations of other religions, and also our resistance to consumerism.

Even though the decision wasn't made without serious thought and conviction, I feel like we might have to forever defend the decision.  I am trying to put myself in their shoes and understand, but it is so weird to me.  Frankly, I would love to see my family drop the tree decorating, gift exchange and forced merriment on December 25th, in favor of a more casual celebration at some other time of year, but I would never ever dream of trying to force them to give up Christmas.  I don't try to push my reasons on anyone, and I'm completely supportive of any and all who celebrate Christmas!  So I have a hard time responding to the sometimes insensitive and manipulative way some folks try to get us to celebrate Christmas. 

I am happy that people enjoy Christmas.  I just don't understand why attendance is mandatory.  And I am frustrated, because I thought in Canada I have freedom of religion, which also means the freedom to not celebrate a religion.  But I guess it is tricky to find a balance between making other people happy, respecting everyone's beliefs and wishes, and doing what feels right . . . especially when doing what feels right is something a little off the beaten path.

39 comments:

  1. I respect your what you are doing. I am a Christian and we have gotten to the point that we do not exchange gifts and drive ourselves crazy with the consumerism part. My only desire is that we get to spend a day together as a family and it will be two days after Christmas this year. Enjoy your travels and I will enjoy my Christmas with my family!

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    1. Hi Marian,

      That means a lot to me, coming from someone who is Christian. I hope you have a lovely (belated) Christmas this year. It is so nice to hear people celebrating Christmas the way they wish to celebrate.

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  2. My family has never been religious so as a child my only thoughts on Christmas were that I didn't have to go to school and I got gifts. Now as an adult I've come to the conclusion that Christmas just isn't really for me. Recently I lost my grandparents and my already small family of just four went down to two (mom and I). While I do and likely will continue to celebrate Christmas in the sense of gift giving (not sure my mom could take any less!), I personally could just as easily do without and use the time off to do something else like travel during the holidays like you!

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    1. Hi Lauren,

      I'm so sorry for your loss.

      I can see how your Mom wouldn't want to lose this family tradition, especially since it's the two of you. I think, no matter the stress, people have warm thoughts of Christmastime. Maybe the two of you could go on a trip sometime together! In any case, I hope you have a lovely holiday this year and get to spend some quality time together :)

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  3. I think what you're saying is really common when the religious encounter the non-religious, too. I too was raised Catholic, but my husband and I are atheists. Every single time something happens in our lives, my religious relatives encourage me to pray, try to talk me into going to church, etc. My mother constantly tells me she prays that I "find God," but how would she react if I tried to talk her out of her beliefs? I would never do that, but my beliefs don't get the same respect.
    I think they don't see not having religious conviction as a belief system; I am expected to respect their "beliefs," but since mine is perceived as "lack of belief," they cannot in any way respect it. I even saw this when Obama (very radically) included atheists in his inauguration speech years ago. He referred to us as "non-believers" sounds rhetorically like we're missing something. Humbug.

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    1. Hi,

      Yes, I agree this can be the case. It's unfortunate your belief system is challenged in a way that would be socially unacceptable the other way around.

      I get the same attitude regarding my decision to not want children. Being child-free is the wrong choice, in the eyes of many people. I am perceived as immature and wrong-headed until I find my way to the "right" conclusion: wanting to have children.

      I try really hard to see things from other perspectives, so I get a little bristly when others don't. But then I try to remind myself, I am not doing what is most common, and that always seem to encounter criticism.

      Humbug indeed.

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  4. Finally someone else who thinks like I do!
    I haven't celebrated Christmas for years for exactly the same reasons, but as you say, people seem to expect you to justify yourself every year.
    I usually chose to spend a day or 2 on my own, doing things just for me, and I know all my friends feel sorry for me, and obliged to invite me to their celebrations, then get offended when I turn them down!
    I make sure to visit my parents (we live far apart) sometime in the winter and take them gifts, but I refuse to fight the masses to travel at overpriced fares for something I don't relate to.
    Happy anniversary and enjoy your travels :) x

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    1. You have no idea how fantastic it is to hear this!! To find people who think and feel similarly is so nice, after feeling like an oddball most of the Christmas season. Yup, folks feel sorry for me too. No tree? No presents? Poor you! Happy you to hear you take the time to relax and unwind, and do things just for you, during Christmas and then visit you parents on your own terms (you must save a bundle in flights).

      Happy couple-days-to-yourself! I hope they are spectacular :)

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  5. My father was agnostic, but my mother was Christian, so I was brought up in the Southern Baptist church. I stopped practicing religion when I was 19 and didn't raise my daughter in church. I've never apologized for that choice, nor have I tried to explain it to many people, because I don't think it's any of their business.

    I've never done very much that other people consider "traditional." I don't make a big production of Christmas, not even the meal. I've never made turkey and dressing or a pecan pie. We eat sushi or make elaborate salads. We exchange gifts, especially now that we have two small children in the family, but we don't attach any religious significance to the practice.

    Like you, I have no problem with other people celebrating (or not celebrating) as they see fit. However, I refuse to let anyone force his beliefs on me, because I am very careful not to force mine on them.

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    1. I'm not sure I can be on board with a lack of pecan pie :D

      I think it's so sweet you and your family eat sushi! Your non-traditional family time sounds fun. I am sure you have a great time together. I should have admitted, I do buy gifts for the littles in my family. But often they get them early or late, so it's not always "under the tree". But I can't explain to them why Auntie Tanya doesn't celebrate Christmas, and I don't want them to feel we love them less.

      It would be nice if more folks felt free to do their own thing, whether they are religious, not religious, or practice a religion that is different.

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  6. I completely agree with you- I am an absolute grump around Christmas because of the money, obligation, and travel. It sucks out the fun of seeing everyone when you've got all that weighted on you, and on top of all that I'm not religious either. My fiance really enjoys it all so we put up a tree in his office for him to enjoy, but it's just not for me. Every year I try to convince him to run away with me on Christmas, maybe someday he'll actually agree!

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    1. Awww, that's no fun when you want to not celebrate and have too!! But it is super cute you put up a tree in his office for him. I hope one year you can enjoy the holiday season somewhere fun!!

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  7. We never decorated until having a child. And our favorite memories of Christmas were the three years we lived in San Francisco - we went to a movie and then ate Chinese food! It's all about your own traditions, and good for you for making up YOUR own mind. My daughter is having fun this year (she's three), but we definitely feel like we need to start our "own" traditions so that the season means something other than Santa for her (we aren't Christian or religious either).

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    1. I totally get decorating for kids. They can be total Magpies and their eyes light up with all of the pretty, fun holiday stuff. I remember LOVING to decorate the Christmas Tree and, looking back, love my Mom for letting me put my weirdo handmade stuff on it. I am still a sucker for Christmas lights and make Christmas spiders because they are too darn pretty not to.

      I think it's fabulous you're going to start traditions of your own, so the time you spend together can really reflect you. Happy celebrating!

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  8. I totally am the opposite now.
    As a child we were not allowed to celebrate Christmas. I was shunned in school by other children and even the relatives that did celebrate would not invite us kids over to see our cousins because we didn't celebrate.
    I am not any religion anymore, it is sad how it divides us as family.
    Since I left my home, I celebrate, maybe not the religious ways but with the eyes of a child who never got to experience it. Now that I have my own child it gets me so excited to see how much he loves Santa and the fun of the year.
    It is not about the gifts or crazy shopping but about the feeling it gives me, to sit under the twinkle lights and see my child enjoy it so much, makes me know I am doing the right thing.
    Amy

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    1. I'm happy to hear you're getting a chance to celebrate now, after not being allowed to. I'm so sad to hear how it divided your family. And to be shunned by other school kids too, that's so terrible. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

      I wish you all the best and hope you have a fabulously lovely Christmas! It sounds like your family is really using it to carve out time for each other and just enjoy the season.

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  9. very good explanation. I think you have very good reason. Enjoy your time with your handy husband! I am looking forward to the new year :)

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    1. Thanks!! I hope you have a lovely holiday season. I am looking forward to the new year too!!

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  10. I completely understand your reasoning. I think it's the kind of decision where you have to decide what is right for your family and it's a shame some people feel as if its an attack on them. I'll wish you a happy anniversary instead of a happy Christmas if that's okay.

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    1. Thanks Julie! I appreciate that :)

      I agree that this is something everyone should feel free to decide for themselves. Sure, it might be sad if someone deviates from the group, but this isn't the only time to be together. Hopefully our family will be cool with it next year, if we spend extra time with them in 2013!

      Happy holidays to you (if that's okay).

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  11. Come to Australia for your next Christmas. It's all about the BBQ, beach, staying out of the heat and having days off to spend with the ones you love. Of course there is a religious element for many, it really is just a great time of year to enjoy summer days.
    Happy days to you and yours! xx

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    1. Ooo, BBQ, beach and heat??? That I could get on board with, lol. Happy BBQing!!

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  12. I'm not Christian either, but I see Christmas as mostly a secular holiday. After all, it was a pagan celebration that the Christian Church took over and is centered around gifts. So yes, it does have some religious aspect, but I feel that's downplayed now. I personally don't like it much either way because it is very commercial, especially in America. People actually kill other people over shopping sales. No thank you. Now I'm at the point where no one really buys me presents anymore, and honestly, I feel if you want to give someone a gift you shouldn't feel obligated because there's a holiday. The only thing I look forward to is cold(er) weather and time off work/school.

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    1. It's true, much of what is Christmas today is secular. But, like you, I'm not keen on either aspect and if I'm going to find a time to get together with family and the like, I'd prefer a day with no history other than what we give it. I don't understand how people can kill each other over sales. That's just horrible. I also agree with your sentiment about buying gifts. I like to buy gifts when I see something that instantly reminds me of the other person.

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    2. I really enjoyed your comment! Hubby and I actually talked about it some more today. He has had people tell him Christmas has Pagan aspects, as an attempt at getting him to jump on board, I guess. But he pointed out we're not Pagan, either. Although meanings differ, Paganism typically refers to polytheistic religions, which we don't practice either! And some Pagan elements have been re-infused with Christian symbolism, which again make Christmas something we can't relate to. For example, I read somewhere the Christmas tree is a Pagan tradition thought to have been adopted by Christians, but the traditional red and white ornaments symbolize Jesus' blood and crucifixion.

      I think you might have been the only person to bring up an older history of Christmas, which is great because it's something we have thought about also! So thanks :D

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  13. What a great post - I really appreciate your openness and honesty! I grew up in a non religious home but we celebrated in a secular way. But now as an adult and critical of our consumerist society, there's not much left in it to celebrate. I do still partake in gift exchanges and some decorations though, mainly because my family does and for nostalgic reasons. I have really been focusing on celebrations related to the seasons in the last while (winter solstice!) as they have much more meaning for me and I really enjoy having celebrations/ritual in my life as long as it's something meaningful.

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    1. Thanks, Kerry. It's been really great to hear people's different takes, too. It seems that many people have really diverse and personal opinions of Christmastime.

      I think the nostalgia is a huge part for many people, and I get that. I like that you have been focusing on celebrations of the seasons! That sounds so fun and so much more personal to you. Happy celebrating!

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  14. This is brave disclosure and a welcome discussion- when your a "non-believer" sometimes you feel a need to keep it on the down low lest you want to invoke a debate. I went to Catholic school, grade & high school too and can relate to sitting out of communion. Although, I found that my classmates never gave it much thought. They knew I had never received my first communion and that I sat it out.
    We celebrate a secular christmas but my husband would rather let it all go, given his druthers. However, it definitely is about nostalgia for me- my mom really made the holiday fun and I relate the traditions to the joy I recall from childhood. So, that's my same goal for my kids. We downplay the gifts but still exchange them and I definitely focus on the decorating & traditions that are borrowed from pagan practices b/c the religious traditions don't resonate with us.
    But as others mentioned, some family members would make it difficult to opt out entirely. I already got a bah humbug for not spinning the Santa myth with my kids.
    We try to keep the stress down by limiting obligations and enjoying the time off to spend with family. Not everyone gets it but we just try to honour our own wishes for the holiday.
    Enjoy your time with handy hubby!

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    1. It's a weirdly nice feeling to hear of someone else sitting out of communion. My classmates didn't make a huge deal out of it either, but the teachers sometimes made me feel like an outcast. Like I didn't belong in a Catholic school and was taking a "spot" from a deserving Catholic kid (sometimes there was a waiting list).

      It's nice to hear your Mom made the holiday a wonderful experience and you're working so hard to create that for your own children. Interesting that not spinning the Santa myth has caused friction!! Darn you for not being the same :)

      Happy celebrating. I wish for nothing but the best for you and yours.

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  15. So interesting and helpful to find this warm and accepting community on a blog that's mainly about decorating! I was brought up in a secular family that celebrated Christmas mostly because it was my parents' anniversary. They eloped! The interesting thing is, since I've become a Christian in recent years and the season means something more to me in a philosophical/theological way, I am less and less interested in all the hooplah. Either way, whether you're just looking to simplify your life or whether you're eager for a little meditative time to think about your faith, the pressures the holiday puts on most of us are really grotesque. My own goal for this day is that it become "Comfort and Joy day" - a time when everyone gets a day off and is encouraged to express good will toward others in whatever fashion seems most appropriate. Sooo... at the end of a snug and simple day in my house, I send best wishes for the same to you, Tanya, and all of your readers.

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    1. I know!! I am so lucky to have such fabulous people read my blog. I hesitate sometimes, when deviating from the DIY and home decor posts, but every time I do write about something off topic I am always greeted with very thoughtful, warm and thought-provoking comments! I don't know how I got this lucky, but the discussion generated is always much appreciated. Even folks who don't agree are so kind in their comments and differences of opinion are always so diplomatically raised. It's very nice that we don't need to see things the same way to still chat about issues and engage with each other.

      It is so sweet your parents eloped at Christmastime! How romantic. And how interesting that the hooplah is less important as you have embraced Christianity.

      I hope you had a wonderfully comforting and joy filled day (with snugness and simplicity), and wish you and yours many more for the new year.

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  16. I am ready to cancel Christmas.

    This year I just couldn't catch the Christmas spirit. I was going through the motions because I was supposed to, I was expected to...but I didn't really feel excited inside. Ok, other than making mini gingerbread house village with my three year old - that was fun!!

    I feel bombarded by blogs at Christmas time. I do most of my shopping online to avoid the hub-bub at the malls.

    Rant: I am completely annoyed that at Christmastime it is acceptable to expose kids to crazy sicknesses...like mingling germs and fevers is perfectly acceptable because you can't miss out on visiting or parties. (my boys both came down with bad colds...) The guilt that gets laid on if you dare stay home.

    Anyways, you obviously have this well thought out. I think we will trade in our tree for travel in the upcoming years.

    I guess what I crave is happy, healthy children...I don't think they need parties and decorations and sugar and mountains of new toys to achieve this...



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    1. Oh boy, I didn't realize the pressure to attend even if your little ones aren't well! Wow, that is intense. I also felt a little overwhelmed with Christmas themes online, but Budapest wasn't too nutty so it was refreshing to be there. There was the Christmas Fair I loved (for the handmade awesomeness and mulled wine) but it was pretty chill in the stores and elsewhere. More peaceful. Except even some public transit shutdown 24-26!! Which resulted in an impromptu long walk on the afternoon of the 24th, lol.

      I hope you're able to follow your heart next year and either do Christmas how you want or cancel it. I know firsthand how intense the pressure can be to celebrate. Hopefully you'll be able to do what is right for you, without people chiming in.

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  17. Tanya, I am so glad to find you. You express all my feelings perfectly about why I won't celebrate Christmas anymore. I came out of the X-Mas shackles last year and advised our family & friends we would not be celebrating X-mas any more. I then gave away all our X-mas decorations. It feels so good to be free of all the craziness and expectations placed on us. We still have a family get together with a big dinner and enjoy being together. My only problem is easing my 8 y/o Grandtr. into this. We buy her a present, but just don't give it to her on 12/25 She goes to a Catholic school and my Dtr., who agrees with me isn't ready to take away the Santa and presents from her yet, but at my house I'm easing her into it. I know there are a lot more like us out there that just need to find the courage to live their truth. You express that truth so eloquently & that may make it easier for people to hear your voice and find the courage to live what's really in their hearts without being offensive to the other side. Thanks for sharing your views. I really admire you.
    Sherry in Florida

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    1. Hi Sherry,
      It's so nice to hear from someone else who doesn't celebrate Christmas!! Thank you for leaving a comment and telling me about how you've ditched Christmas. Sometimes making the decision (and keeping with it) can be difficult. It's such a tricky transition, isn't it?? I like your idea of not giving the present on the 25th. We still have little ones who like the gift-getting process, in the family, so it feels cold to not partake.

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  18. Tanya, thank you for your personal reply. I'm so impressed that you take the time to respond to your readers individually. I read and subscribe to quite a few blogs about food, DIY, and Embroidery, (I especially like "Sashiko" Japanese embroidery)... You have got to be one of the most, intelligent, thoughtful, totally likable people I've come across.
    I'm looking forward to following you as I know you will present a 'clean' read, free from all the other Christmas greetings, prayers and religious quotes and pictures. I wish I could find others 'like you' to follow.
    Thanks for being true to yourself and having the courage to put your personal views about Christmas and religion out there for all to read in such a wonderful, non-offensive way..

    Sherry in Florida.

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    1. Hi Sherry,

      I LOVE reading comments, especially when I hear from people who feel the same (or similar) way as me on something that is not usual. It's not that I need people to agree with me (I loved reader comments from people who do celebrate too), I just like knowing I'm not the only person that deviates from the norm from time to time. There will definitely not be anything Christmassy around here, although I might celebrate winter with some exterior white lights and cookies, lol. I just got one of my favorite home decor magazines in the mail and the November issue is already FULL of Christmas stuff. Sigh. I am amazed more people who celebrate different holidays don't get angry because even when things are framed as "holiday" themed, there's always one holiday that is really focused on.

      Thanks so much for your kind words, I'm blushing as I type this :)

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  19. Tanya,
    It was really refreshing to read your post and the replies. I often feel like I'm a Scrooge for not wanting to celebrate Christmas. I haven't taken the plunge and refused it all together just yet. I have wanted to for the last several years and I hope to find the courage to do it this year. If I may ask, how did you "break it" to your family? I'm struggling with this part because my family LOVES Christmas and I know it will be a huge disappointment to them. Neither my or my husband's family are religious, so that's not an issue. It really comes down to not continuing the traditions that they all love so much. As a couple, my husband and I are trying to simplify all areas of our life and would love to put more emphasis on having genuine relationships rather than keeping up traditions just because.

    BTW, I really appreciate how personal you are with your responses and am quickly becoming a huge fan of your blog. Keep doing whatcha do!

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment.

      That's such a tough question, though. Because my Mom and Dad and I started this not celebrating thing, it was easier because there's strength in numbers. We started to travel at Christmas, under the guise of finding a university for me to attend. But then we kept traveling and then when I got married, my Hubby liked how we did it so he joined us. My parents just told my family that we don't have much time together just the three of us and we wanted to travel when we had the time off. They were disappointed, but accepted it. But because we expressed that we wanted the time to bond as a smaller family unit, they understood.

      Hubby's family continues to fight me on it because they love the traditions. And they aren't convinced Hubby has chosen a non-Christmas. They think he can be convinced. Avoidance has been my solution, which is terrible advice. We just try to be out of town, or Hubby signs up for overtime at work. We just try to be firm, but I feel like I'm always repeating myself.

      Replacing Christmas with something else could convince your family. A new tradition, travel somewhere, celebrations at another time of year (like a family reunion, when the weather is nice). Maybe find out what exactly they like about Christmas. Maybe it's just being together and eating a lot (both good things) so maybe adapting your celebrations could make everyone happy.

      I totally understand wanting to simplify. Hopefully your family can come to an arrangement that makes everyone happy. If not, I hear Hawaii is nice . . .

      :)

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